V/Line’s statewide coaches and trains, and local coaches are an important Victorian transport option for Wonthaggi, Inverloch and Cowes.
Ensuring that everyone can use V/Line including senior citizens and the disabled is good public policy and a legislative requirement.
Unfortunately Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan and Public Transport Victoria is failing to adequately oversee the local V/Line operation.
On Easter Monday, March 28, the 11.24am coach from Dandenong waited almost 20 minutes at Koo Wee Rup because the connecting coach from Southern Cross to Leongatha was about 20 minutes late.
Further delay ensued with the slow transfer of a wheelchair passenger from the Leongatha-bound to the Inverloch-bound vehicle.
One of the coach drivers suggested to a Westernport Road Lines office staff member via the two-way radio that it would be easier if the other passengers transferred between the coaches instead of the gent using a wheelchair – this would save at least eight minutes.
The office manager refused, claiming that the Leongatha-bound coach had no time to refuel for further trips on Easter Monday despite it spending an hour and a quarter at Leongatha, or just under an hour given how late it was at Koo Wee Rup. Refuelling typically takes 20 minutes plus time to get to and from a petrol station.
An argument audible to passengers took place between the understandably annoyed coach driver and the office staff member.
The coach driver rightly complained that it was a ‘bloody nuisance’ to have to prepare the cumbersome wheelchair lift.
Another coach driver sagaciously said ‘this upsets us as much as it upsets passengers.’
It did not help that one of the wheelchair lifts proved difficult to retract.
By Anderson, the Inverloch-bound coach was 29 minutes late, forcing passengers on the connecting South Coast trip to Cowes to twiddle their thumbs near the Bass Highway roundabout. Fifteen passengers transferred here to Cowes; it was pleasing to see so many using this connection.
If it saves time, given that the majority of passengers were travelling to Cowes, Wonthaggi or Inverloch and not Korumburra or Leongatha, V/Line should allow passengers to change coaches quickly at Koo Wee Rup, allowing anyone in a wheelchair to stay on the same vehicle and not to have to go through another ‘down and up’ lift.
Bass Coast deserves better than a coach that runs half an hour late when some of the late running was preventable if some initiative was shown.
Few passengers and no coach drivers wore the supplied seat belts.
While V/Line road coaches have a good safety record, they are not as safe as V//Line’s and Metro’s trains, with a V/Line coach rollover near Heywood, southwest Victoria killing three passengers in April 2009.
As local hardworking but understaffed Victoria Police members, VicRoads and ‘Mr Potholes’ (Roads Minister Luke Donellan) may know, the Bass and South Gippsland Highways carry far more traffic than was the case when the much missed Wonthaggi and Yarram rail lines on which I and many others thankfully travelled were still open in the mid 1970s.
What are the chances of V/Line passengers and coach drivers minimising their injuries were a truck to collide with a V/Line Inverloch or Yarram coach on these busy major highways?
If Westernport Road Lines cannot improve its act and act on sensible advice from its coach drivers to minimise delays to paying passengers, Public Transport Victoria should examine whether this coach company remains a fit and proper entity to be entrusted with a V/Line contract.
Edmund Carew, Windsor